K2 Expedition (8,611 m)
Karakoram, Pakistan

Philippe and the massive face of K2 (© P. Gatta)
Philippe and the massive face of K2 (© P. Gatta)



K2 (8,611 m)

K2, also called Chhogori in Balit name, is the second highest mountain in the world, located on the Pakistan-Chinese border in the Karakoram Range. If Mount Everest is the highest peak in the world, K2 is considered by many as the hardest of the fourteen 8000m peaks and in fact one of the hardest mountains on the planet. There are many reasons for that: its high altitude, the difficulty of the routes and the very challenging weather of the Karakoram Range.

Epic drive from Skardu to Askole (© P. Gatta)
Epic drive from Skardu to Askole (© P. Gatta)

K2 was first climbed by Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni of an Italian team on July 31, 1954. Walter Bonatti and Pakistani porter Amir Mehdi played a critical role in this success, carrying oxygen bottles to Lacedelli and Compagnoni for their summit day.

The Abruzzi Spur (South East Ridge) remains the most climbed route today. The route is named after Italian explorer Prince Luigi Amedeo, Duke of Abruzzi, who reached 6,600m during the first attempt on this ridge in 1909.

As of 2011, 306 climbers reached the top of K2 and over 80 died, making K2 one of the deadliest of all 8000m's .

Rainbow on Baltoro glacier (Photo Kyle Lek)
Rainbow on Baltoro glacier (Photo Kyle Lek)



K2 Expedition Map

The map below shows the trekking to K2 and the various camps.





Abruzzi Spur route description

The K2 base camp (BC) is located on the Godwin Austin glacier at around 5,000 meters. From the BC, the route goes up on the Godwin Austin glacier, crosses a short icefall to reach the base of Southeast Ridge where the advanced base camp (ABC) is set at 5,300 m (4.5 km from BC). This camp is more a gear depot than a real camp.

Godwin Austin glacier on the way down to K2 BC (© P. Gatta)
Godwin Austin glacier on the way down to K2 BC (© P. Gatta)

The Abruzzi Spur starts above ABC and climbs a 45° to 65° slope up to Camp 1. Camp 1 is set on a small rocky ridge at 6,050 m which is exposed to rock falls and avalanches. It takes around 4.5 hours from BC to C1.

K2 Camp 1 (© P. Gatta)
K2 Camp 1 (© P. Gatta)

The route continues through snow slopes and rock ridges to the 30m high House's Chimney (at 6,600 m) which is the hardest section between C1 and C2. Above the chimney, there are less than 100 m to reached C2. C2 is located on a small place at 6,700 m, it is exposed and very windy but safer than C1.

K2 Camp 1 (© P. Gatta)
Bottom of House's Chimney (© P. Gatta)

Above C2, some snow slopes and ridges lead to the hardest section of the route, the 400 m of the Black Pyramid. A steep mixed terrain with some vertical cliffs. The camp 3 is set just above the Black Pyramid at 7,400 m. The spot is a bit larger than C1 and C2 but it is very exposed to avalanches.

On the way to C3 in the Black Pyramid (© P. Gatta)
On the way to C3 in the Black Pyramid (© P. Gatta)

The route from C3 to C4 is mainly a 30-40° snow slope up to the shoulder (avalanche prone). The Shoulder is a wide, low angle part of the ridge starting at 7,700 m. There are several places to set the C4 on this Shoulder, the best is around 7,950 m. The C4 is relatively safe but very exposed to the high winds. From C4, the slope gets progressively steeper and ends at the Bottleneck, a narrow and steep 80° couloir underneath a massive serac.

Upper section of the Abruzzi with camp 2, the Black Pyramid all the way to the Shoulder (© P. Gatta)
Upper section of the Abruzzi with camp 2, the Black Pyramid all the way to the Shoulder (© P. Gatta)

On the top of the bottleneck, the route traverses to the left (55° slope). After this traverse, the route continues more or less straight up to the top.

Stormy weather on K2 (© P. Gatta)
Stormy weather on K2 (© P. Gatta)

From Islamabad to Skardu along the Karakoram Highway

For us, the challenge started way before reaching K2 as getting the climbing permit has been quite an experience... After being stuck in Islamabad, we finally got the permit, excited to leave for the mountains.

In theory, there are flights between Islamabad and Skardu... but that's the theory, in reality they are canceled most of the time. So like in 2009, we had to drive along the deadly Karakoram Highway (KKH) which despite its name, is all but an highway. If the first third is acceptable, the rest is famous for its landslides, rock falls and for crossing dangerous area, very close to the Talibans.

We finally left Islamabad with our friends from the Broad Peak expedition, making a convoy of four busses. That was a great opportunity for me to meet many friends from previous expeditions. The first part of the drive was okay but very hot, above 35 degrees and of course without A/C. We reached Besham in 7-8 hours, overall the road was good and there were no worries when we crossed the villages as opposed to 2009. We slept in the same "hotel" as in 2009 but now there was much more security with militaries protecting the hotel.

Landslides on the Karakoram Highway  (© P. Gatta)
Landslides on the Karakoram Highway (© P. Gatta)

On the 28th, we left the hotel early in the morning with military protection. There were two jeeps with armed men before and after us plus one man with a Kalashnikov in the bus with us. That being said, I didn’t feel insecure like in 2009. The road has improved a lot too, there are many more paved sections and lots of work going on (building bridges, paving, etc.), all financed by Chinese.

Overall the road is still dangerous because of its location at the bottom of big gorges and many sections are exposed to rock fall, side drops, etc. The "road" between Besham and Chilas was the worst. This place is super-hot, at an average altitude of 1000 m, surrounded by brown rocks and cliffs. Around noon, the temperature was probably about 35-40°C and once again we baked in the bus. The scenery was a bit desperate, extremely dry, rocky, sandy with the Indus river at the bottom. The only reward was to partially see the Nanga Parbat with sand dunes in the foreground.

We finally reached Skardu after 21 hours of bus, not exactly the best preparation, before heading to the mountains.

Sunset in Skardu (© P. Gatta)
Sunset in Skardu (© P. Gatta)



Trekking to K2 Base Camp

The trekking to K2 base camp is probably one of the beautiful treks in the World, but it is definitely a tough one. The terrain is rough with several days on moraine of the Baltoro glacier. The weather is challenging and can vary from very hot on sunny days, to pouring rain and snow storm.

When the sky is clear, the views over the mountains are stunning: Trango Towers, Masherbrum, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum's, K2... Overall, the trek from Askole to K2 base camp is roughly 100km long with 3,400 meters of elevation gain.



July 1: Skardu - Askole (2,950 m)

The drive from Skardu to Askole took 6 hours and went rather well. One bridge was too damaged to be used by the Jeep so we swapped Jeeps after the bridge. Askole is a nice small village, the last one in the valley.

On the way from Skardu to Askole (© P. Gatta)
On the way from Skardu to Askole (© P. Gatta)

July 2: Askole - Jhula (3,160 m)

We shared the logistics with the Broad Peak team so we had 400 porters in total! We started at 6am, enjoying a bit of fresh air before it started to be hot. Beautiful weather and amazing scenery. The trail follows a large river with sandy shores, surrounded by steep hills and snowy mountains. We stopped in Jhula which is a dusty place, rather hot and not the nicest camp of the trek.

Stage: 20 km, +390m/-260m, 3h55.

The trail to Jhula (© P. Gatta)
The trail to Jhula (© P. Gatta)

July 3: Jhula - Paiju (3,450 m)

We left Jhula at 6am, an hour later than other teams and porters so the trail was a bit busier today. The first hour was nice, in the shade, then the heat came again. I kept a good pace, passing progressively all porters with their impressive 25kg load.

It helps to know the trail and with the GPS, it is easier to manage the effort. Walking on this sandy and dusty trail in the heat reminded me of desert races and I was tempted to run.

Later in the day, we could see K2 for the first time, the only peak with a plume and high wind on the top. I reached Paiju at 3450 m in 4h15, feeling well. Paiju is one of the very few places with trees, so we could escape the heat from the sun.

Stage: 20 km, +505m/-290m, 4h10.

Porters sharing meat in Paiju (© P. Gatta)
Porters sharing meat in Paiju (© P. Gatta)

July 4: rest day in Paiju (3,450 m)

Today was a rest day for the porters so we all stayed in Paiju.

Porters in Paiju (© P. Gatta)
Porters in Paiju (© P. Gatta)

July 5: Paiju - Urdukas (4,050 m)

The first hour after Paiju is nice and easy, then we started walking on the Baltoro moraine. The trail is pretty rough with lots of unstable rocks, ups and downs for 19km and 1,000 m of elevation gain. This is probably the toughest day of the entire trek to BC.

Urdukas camp is in a nice place with outstanding views over the Trango Tower.

Stage: 19 km, +1000m/-380m, 4h45.

Philippe in Urdukas, Trango Towers in the background (© P. Gatta)
Philippe in Urdukas, Trango Towers in the background (© P. Gatta)

July 6: Urdukas - Goro 2 (4,300 m)

We left Urdukas early in the morning to resume the ups and downs on the Baltoro glacier. The weather was perfect and we could enjoy amazing views over Gasherbrum IV, Masherbrum...

We set the camp at Goro 2 in the center of the glacier at 4,300m.

Porters on the Baltoro glacier (© P. Gatta)
Porters on the Baltoro glacier (© P. Gatta)

Stage: 12 km, +535m/-305m, 3h10.

Goro II camp (© P. Gatta)
Goro II camp (© P. Gatta)

July 7: Goro 2 - Broad Peak BC (4,700 m)

The trek to base camp is rough but could be rewarding too. When the weather is good, it offers breath talking views.

Porters with the Gasherbrum IV in the background (© P. Gatta)
Porters with the Gasherbrum IV in the background (© P. Gatta)

We walked 19 km surrounded by some of the most amazing mountains in the world; Muztagh Tower, Mitre Peak, Gasherbrums, Broad Peak, K2... We set the camp close to Broad Peak, in the center of the Godwin Austin glacier.

Stage: 19 km, +680m/-250m, 5h.

Godwin Austin glacier and K2 (© P. Gatta)
Godwin Austin glacier and K2 (© P. Gatta)

July 8: Broad Peak BC - K2 BC (5,000 m)

Today’s walk was short with the massive face of K2 constantly in front of us. We arrived early and spent the rest of the day setting up our base camp.

Stage: 6 km, +250m/-40m, 1h20.

K2 base camp (© P. Gatta)
K2 base camp (© P. Gatta)



The K2 climb

July 9-11: first rotation to camp 1 (6,050 m)

After a first round trip to advanced base camp (5,300m), we made our first rotation to camp 1 (6,050 m). The objective of the rotations is to get acclimatized to the high altitude and carry all the loads (gear, food, clothes, tent, etc.) to the high camps.

Climbers in the icefall of the Godwin Austin glacier (© P. Gatta)
Climbers in the icefall of the Godwin Austin glacier (© P. Gatta)

We reached advanced base camp (ABC) in 2 hours. The 4.5 km walk on Godwin Austin glacier was not too bad and the icefall is relatively short. From ABC, the slope gets steeper (30 to 60 degrees) and with the heavy pack, it took me 3 hours to get to C1.

Bad weather on the way to camp 1 (© P. Gatta)
Bad weather on the way to camp 1 (© P. Gatta)

We spent one cold and windy night there and went back down to base camp (2h30).

Philippe, Jason and Noel at camp 1 (© P. Gatta)
Philippe, Jason and Noel at camp 1 (© P. Gatta)

July 12-13: rest day at base camp

Time to rest and recover after the first rotation and get ready for the second one.

Prayer flags with K2 behind (© P. Gatta)
Prayer flags with K2 behind (© P. Gatta)

July 14-17: second rotation up to 6,900m

We left BC early in the morning to avoid the avalanches and rock falls caused by the unusual high temperatures. I went straight to camp 1 that I reached in 4h30, thanks to a better acclimatization.

On the way to K2 advanced base camp (© P. Gatta)
On the way to K2 advanced base camp (© P. Gatta)

The following day, we climbed the famous House's Chimney and reached camp 2 in the morning, in 3h15 from C1.

Alex Buisse arriving at camp 2, amazing view of the Karakoram range behind (© P. Gatta)
Alex Buisse arriving at camp 2, amazing view of the Karakoram range behind (© P. Gatta)

After a first night at 6,650 m, I climbed to 6,900m on the Black Pyramid and went back down to C2 for a second night.

K2 Black Pyramid, Abruzzi Spur (© P. Gatta)
K2 Black Pyramid, Abruzzi Spur (© P. Gatta)

Great views over the Peaks in China from C2 (© P. Gatta)
Great views over the Peaks in China from C2 (© P. Gatta)

After 3 days in high altitude, it was time to get back to base camp, 1,700 m lower (3h15 from C2 to BC). On the way down, we left all our gear in ABC.

Climbing down the House's Chimney (© P. Gatta)
Climbing down the House's Chimney (© P. Gatta)

July 18-23: waiting game

Back at BC, we were ready for the summit push...

Stormy day on Broad Peak (© P. Gatta)
Stormy day on Broad Peak (© P. Gatta)

...but the weather did not cooperate.

Rosa Fernandez Rubio, Kobi Reichen, Noel Hanna, Mike Horn and Philippe Gatta (© P. Gatta)
Rosa Fernandez Rubio, Kobi Reichen, Noel Hanna, Mike Horn and Philippe Gatta (© P. Gatta)

The heat wave that killed over 2,000 people in Pakistan, has been felt here in the mountain too. We wore shorts and tee-shirt at 5,000 m most of the day and the freezing level went up to 7,000 m. There were multiples avalanches and rock falls every day and more incredibly, there were running water up to 6,000m! Sadly, one of these avalanches hit Broad Peak, killing one porter and injuring 3 climbers.

K2 memorial (© P. Gatta)
K2 memorial (© P. Gatta)

July 24-26: summit attempt

The good weather window we were expecting never came and the forecasts were constantly changing. A massive avalanche set off from 7,000 m and went all the way down to the glacier, releasing human remains. Despite these bad news, we decided to give it a try anyway. As the window was too short for a normal summit push, we decided to go straight from BC to C2, aiming to summit on the 27th.

Philippe on K2 with Broad Peak North in the background (© P. Gatta)
Philippe on K2 with Broad Peak North in the background (© P. Gatta)

Unfortunately a huge avalanche wiped out our advance base camp with all our climbing gear in it (crampons, ice axes, harnesses, helmets...). We desperately started digging with what we had at the time; a couple of ice axes and a frying pan!
We progressively got more help (thanks Alex) and shovels but the task was massive and the avalanches were still falling.

Trying to find our lost gear while avalanches kept falling (© P. Gatta)
Trying to find our lost gear while avalanches kept falling (© P. Gatta)

After three days digging, we only found part of our gear. The equipment lost combined with the bad weather forcast, put an end to all expeditions.

Lenticular clouds and strong winds on K2 and Broad Peak (© P. Gatta)
Lenticular clouds and strong winds on K2 and Broad Peak (© P. Gatta)

July 27-Aug 6: trekking back and return to Islamabad

We trekked back to Askole in 4 days and finally reached Islamabad 5 days later, after another epic experience on the Karakoram Highway.

Night shot of K2 (© P. Gatta)
Night shot of K2 (© P. Gatta)


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